AngusD switched from pro chess to poker two decades ago and has been professionally involved in the game on numerous levels since the very beginning of online poker, including playing as a poker ambassador both online and at major festivals around the globe. He has written much about the game over the years, and brings to YPD a wealth of experience in all aspects of the poker industry. Meanwhile, his many years on the pro chess circuit (he’s an International Master and prolific author) afford him an interesting perspective on the psychology of poker.

· Published 16.04.2021 · last updated 16.04.2021

When we first begin to play poker it’s natural when making decisions that our thought process is influenced almost exclusively by what cards we hold, and whether or not we have a good enough hand in which we can justify investing chips.

This in itself presents us with an interesting situation in terms of the psychological implications of the environment we find ourselves in when playing poker. Despite being just one of the players at the table, we can nevertheless be guilty of diluting the whole process of a hand being played out in a way that limits our sphere of experience to far too personal a level. If we do spend any time thinking about the opposition, it’s usually only in the very specific context – almost an afterthought – of whether we can beat them.

The fact that others are also trying to win pots is seen as a kind of inconvenience, an unwelcome obstacle to our ultimate success. This is a very common attitude until the time comes when we realise that there’s so much more to the game than our hole cards and what connection they do or don’t have with the Flop, Turn and River.

Such a habit is much more common in online poker rooms than is the case in a so-called ‘bricks & mortar’ environment. In the latter we’re all seated together around the table and the very physical  presence of our fellow players – literally inches away from us – serves to define the situation for us: we’re all fighting for the chips that end up in the middle of the table. Personally, when playing ‘live’ I could be talkative and responsive one day, or cut myself off in order to be in my own personal bubble the next, depending on how I feel and the dynamic of the table.

But whichever character I end up being, I’m always striving to be as aware as possible of what’s going on around me. This includes people’s behaviour and other psychological elements that are worth observing, but a key factor is trying to determine what hand they’re on, their ranges and so on. Of course, this isn’t an exact science, and our evaluations and running assessments evolve the more we see. But it boils down to our appreciation of the involvement of others in the mechanics of a hand’s development and, in turn, other players’ influence on the outcome. And this, of course, impacts on our own results.

For one thing, it’s important to acknowledge that, unless we have the stone cold nuts, we could well be beaten by any one (or more) of our opponents. Perhaps surprisingly, this simple fact tends to be more difficult to appreciate than we might think, not least because so many players tend to barely consider (if at all!) what cards their opponents might have!

But this is a key part of the game, and it’s imperative that we get used to contemplating what we’re up against.

Poker – particularly online poker, when we’re far more susceptible to distractions and a lack of focus – is, frustratingly, as much about bad habits as good ones. We need to systematically eliminate what we do wrong while adding to the necessarily long list of what we do right. This subject is a perfect example in that we should get used to observing the actions of players regardless of whether or not we’re actually involved in that hand, and by so doing we get used to thinking about how we’re a mere part of the dynamic, and the extent of the impact of other players.


If you’re currently more like those players described above who has been trundling along thus far without giving much or any thought to your opponents’ role in a hand, then it might seem like a gargantuan task to keep tabs on what everyone else is doing. However, with experience and a little initial effort it should become second nature to have a good idea of how each individual opponent plays, their tendencies in this or that situation, and even their ranges. Making this our default setting when sitting down to play is the only way to give ourselves the best opportunity of improving and, in turn, achieving desired results.

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